By Alan MacLeod
February 15, 2023 MintPress News
It has now been one week since Seymour Hersh published an in-depth report claiming that the Biden administration deliberately blew up the Nord Stream II gas pipeline without Germany’s consent or even knowledge—an operation which began planning long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Based on interviews with national security insiders, Hersh—the journalist who broke the stories of the My Lai Massacre, the CIA spying program and the Abu Ghraib torture scandal—claims that in June, U.S. Navy divers traveled to the Baltic Sea and attached C4 explosive charges to the pipeline. By September, President Biden himself ordered its destruction. According to Hersh, all understood the stakes and the gravity of what they were doing, acknowledging that, if caught, it would be seen as a flagrant “act of war” against their allies.
Despite this, corporate media have overwhelmingly ignored the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter’s bombshell. A MintPress News study analyzed the 20 most influential publications in the United States, according to analytics company Similar Web, and found only four mentions of the report between them.
The entirety of the corporate media’s attention given to the story consisted of:
The 20 outlets studied are, in alphabetical order:
ABC News; Bloomberg News; Business Insider; BuzzFeed; CBS News; CNBC; CNN; Forbes; Fox News; The Huffington Post; MSNBC; NBC News; The New York Post; The New York Times; NPR; People Magazine; Politico; USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.
Searches for “Seymour Hersh” and “Nord Stream” were carried out on the websites of each outlet, and were then checked against precise Google searches and results from the Dow Jones Factiva news database.
This lack of interest cannot be explained due to the report’s irrelevance. If the Biden administration really did work closely with the Norwegian government to blow up Nord Stream II, causing billions of dollars worth of immediate damage and plunging an entire region of the world into a freezing winter without sufficient energy, it ranks as one of the worst terrorist attacks in history; a flagrant act of aggression against a supposed ally.
Therefore, if Biden did indeed order this attack, it is barely possible to think of a more consequential piece of news. Indeed, according to Hersh, all those involved—from Biden, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan—understood that what they were doing was “an act of war.”
The Nord Stream attack was also one of the world’s worst ecological disasters, constituting the largest single leak of methane in history—a gas 80 times worse for the planet than carbon dioxide at accelerating climate change.
“The media system has, predictably, tried to marginalize the report,” Bryce Greene, a writer and media critic who has closely followed the press’ lack of interest in scrutinizing the Nord Stream story, told MintPress, adding,
They don’t want to deal with the repercussions. It also reflects poorly on the profession…Even Jeffery Sachs in his Bloomberg interview said that journalists he knew personally understood that evidence, but also understood that the media system they worked in wouldn’t respond kindly to any suggestion of U.S. complicity, so they kept quiet.
Greene explained that bothersome facts about the war have consistently been swept under the rug, noting that,
This is indicative of the entire Ukraine War coverage. From hiding the history of NATO expansion, to calling Ukrainian Nazis “Russian propaganda,” to CBS even retracting a story about Ukrainian corruption. The fact that U.S. media figures want to be seen as ‘on the good team’ or ‘on the right side of history’ means that they’re unwilling to confront reality as it exists.
This complete radio silence from most of the country’s most influential news organizations is all the more remarkable, considering Hersh’s revelations have been all over newswire services. Reuters, for example, has published 14 separate reports on the topic since Thursday. Every large media outlet in America (and many medium-sized and even small ones) subscribes to Reuters, republishing content from their newswires.
One of the main tasks of a newsroom editor is to follow the newswire and follow up on Reuters’ content. This means that editors around the country have been bombarded with this story every day since it broke, and virtually every single one of them has passed on it—14 consecutive times. Thus, even when repeatedly presented with free content to monetize, almost every newsroom in the U.S. decided against it. Independent, reader-supported media, however, have covered the story much more closely.
This is not to say that Reuters has been supportive of Hersh’s assertions. Its first article on the subject, for example, was entitled “White House says blog post on Nord Stream explosion ‘is utterly false’”, thereby allowing the Biden administration to set the agenda and downplay Hersh’s investigation as a mere blog post—something those in alternative media were quick to highlight. Hersh self-published his report on online platform Substack—a fact that either undermines his findings or the credibility of the corporate media apparatus, depending on one’s perspective.
“The most incredible thing about the backlash against Hersh’s article on the U.S. blowing up the Nord Stream pipelines is the fact that it’s clear no establishment media outlet has any intention of carrying out the basic journalism needed to confirm or refute what he’s reported,” wrote journalist and MintPress contributor Jonathan Cook.
Other journalists, particularly those connected to the Western intelligence services, were scathing of the report. “The only people Hersh impresses any more [sic] are the sort of people who carry water for Putin and Assad, or the terminally dumb,” quipped Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins. Christo Grozev, another Bellingcat writer, labeled Hersh “senile”, “corrupt” and an “obsessive liar” whose “irresponsible single-anonymous-source reporting by a name with legacy authority is among the worst damage to journalism anyone ever caused.”
Fact-checking website Snopes also sprung into action, calling Hersh’s claim a “conspiracy” that rested on a single “omnipotent anonymous source.”
In an interview with the Radio War Nerd podcast, Hersh fired back, claiming
The New York Times and the Washington Post have just ignored me. What they think I should do is use [the source’s] name, get him put in jail, stuff like that, which would end my career. I’ve been doing this for 50 years. My Lai started in 1969, and I will tell you something…I will protect people.
He also noted that he actually cultivated multiple corroborative sources for the story.
A Story Like No Other
According to Hersh’s source, last June, under the cover of an international NATO exercise happening in the area, U.S. Navy divers based in Panama City, Florida, planted remotely-triggered C4 explosives on a section of the pipeline. Three months later, the order was given to blow it up. Navy divers were assisted by the Norwegian military, who found the perfect location; calm and shallow water just off the coast of Bornholm Island, Denmark.
An earlier Nord Stream pipeline was already supplying Germany and Western Europe with Russian gas, providing a cheap and readily available source of fuel to heat and power the continent. With the introduction of the second pipeline, Europe would have become effectively energy independent of the United States. This raised the possibility that the continent might move in a neutral or independent political direction too, creating a powerful regional bloc of its own, rather than the current Atlanticist (i.e. U.S.-dominated) model that prevails. The 760-mile pipeline travels along the Baltic Sea floor, from western Russia to northeastern Germany, transporting liquified natural gas into homes and businesses throughout Europe. As such, it represents a vastly more cost-efficient form of energy than purchasing American liquified national gas or fracked oil—something Washington had been leaning hard on Europe to switch to.
Successive White House administrations had long made their opposition to the new, multi-billion dollar project publicly known. But Hersh alleges that the Biden administration began planning the sabotage in 2021, many months before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The choice to use Navy divers, rather than members of America’s Special Operations Command, was reportedly down to secrecy. Unlike Special Ops, by law, Congress, the Senate and House leadership do not need to be briefed about Navy operations. “The Biden Administration was doing everything possible to avoid leaks,” Hersh wrote.
Nevertheless, many in the know had cold feet. “Some working guys in the CIA and the State Department were saying, ‘Don’t do this. It’s stupid and will be a political nightmare if it comes out,’” Hersh’s source said.
In the end, Biden himself gave the mission the green light, and three months after it was completed, Washington pressed the button, destroying the pipeline.
In the immediate aftermath of the destruction, Western corporate media were coy about the culprit, even suggesting that Vladimir Putin himself was by far the number one suspect in the case. They also actively suppressed any other opinions on the matter, sometimes to a near-comical degree. Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, for example, was abruptly taken off the air by Bloomberg as he ran through circumstantial evidence suggesting Western forces could be behind the attack.
Can We Believe This?
Hersh’s account adds weight to Sachs’ assertions. But is it credible? On the one hand, Hersh is a veteran investigative journalist who has built a stellar reputation over decades, working closely with government sources to break important news stories. On the other, his bombshell relies almost entirely on unnamed sources. It is standard journalistic practice to name and check sources. The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics state that “reporters should use every possible avenue to confirm and attribute information before relying on unnamed sources,” and that they must “always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity,” because too many “provide information only when it benefits them.”
Without a name to go with a claim, there are no consequences for sources (or journalists, for that matter) simply lying to further their agenda. Hersh, therefore, is implicitly asking readers to trust his credibility and his judgement. Moreover, Hersh’s sources are government and intelligence insiders. Part of their role is placing false or inaccurate information into the public domain to further the state’s agenda. Journalistically speaking, then, anonymous government or intelligence officials are about the least credible sources imaginable.
Nevertheless, it seems clear that, given Washington’s war on whistleblowers, no source would ever publicly disclose this sort of information, unless they were ready to risk decades in prison. Therefore, they could reasonably qualify for anonymity.
Greene took a nuanced position on the story’s credibility, stating,
Is everything Hersh alleged correct? While it would surprise me if there were evidence of any other power being behind the pipeline explosion—which would mean Hersh’s report is a complete fabrication—it would not be surprising if a few of Hersh’s details don’t line up, but that is common in journalism, and not always the result of bad faith or incompetence.
“The thing to remember is Hersh’s sources are in the world of military and intelligence. They will lie, exaggerate, obfuscate—and of course get things wrong by mistake,” Greene added,
But the compartmentalized nature of any bureaucracy—and the intelligence world especially—means that the full picture is sometimes murky, even to those considered to be ‘in the know’. The fact that Hersh’s source knows so much detail is remarkable, but certainly not implausible given the history of high-level leakers.
If the United States did indeed sabotage Nord Stream II, it was one of the least well-hidden and most signposted attacks in history. The U.S. and NATO had, for years, publicly made clear that they were exploring options to stop the project.
A few weeks before the Russian invasion last February, Biden summoned German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to the White House, where the president made him participate in a bizarre press conference in which Biden stated,
If Russia invades–that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine–then there will be no longer a Nord Stream II. We will bring an end to it.
The event had the air of an adult chastising a misbehaving child, yet Biden was, in effect, telling Scholz to his face that his country’s infrastructure might face a U.S. attack.
To be fair to the president, he was merely repeating what many in his administration had been publicly saying for months. Both Victoria Nuland and State Department Spokesperson Ned Price had independently stated that, one way or another, Nord Stream II will not move forward.
Likewise, after the attack, the U.S. barely tried to hide its satisfaction. “This is a tremendous opportunity” Anthony Blinken beamed. The Secretary of State continued,
It’s a tremendous opportunity to once and for all remove the dependence on Russian energy, and thus to take away from Vladimir Putin the weaponization of energy as a means of advancing his imperial designs. That’s very significant and that offers tremendous strategic opportunity.
Other major officials thought U.S. culpability for the blast was so obvious that they assumed that they would take credit for it, rather than claim Russia carried out a false flag attack. Member of the European Parliament and former Foreign Minister of Poland, Radek Sikorski, for example, tweeted out a picture of the blast with the words “Thank you, USA”. Sikorski, married to U.S. national security state insider Anne Applebaum, later deleted his post.
For Greene, the United States is near the top of the list of potential culprits. As he explained,
The charge of U.S. complicity is supported by a good deal of circumstantial evidence: The clearest answer to the ‘cui bono’ [who benefits?] question is obviously the U.S. Even before Hersh’s reporting, German officials reportedly said they were open to the idea of Western complicity. So in that sense, Hersh’s reporting is in line with what we already know (and what the mainstream media refuses to seriously discuss).
Certainly, Washington has benefited greatly from the explosion. Its major competitor (Russia) has been seriously economically weakened, and European purchases of expensive American liquified natural gas have more than doubled since last year. Norway, too, has gained from the blast, and is now Germany’s principal supplier of gas, allowing it to make billions in profits.
A Reporter Like No Other
Born in 1937 into a working-class Jewish immigrant family, Hersh cut his teeth as a crime reporter in early 1960s Chicago. He first came to national attention in 1969, however, when he exposed the massacre of hundreds of Vietnamese civilians by U.S. troops at My Lai—a scoop that won him the Pulitzer Prize. His revelations were far from welcomed in establishment media, though, and he had to fight to get even a small startup newswire to take a chance on his story.
In 1974, Hersh again caused a national scandal after exposing a massive Nixon-era CIA spying operation targeting hundreds of thousands of left-wing activists, anti-war dissidents and other anti-establishment figures. Again, far from being heralded, the majority of the corporate press attempted to defend the national security state and discredit him and his reporting.
Thirty years later, he dropped yet another bombshell on the American public, exposing the U.S.’ widespread torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.
Whether it was reporting on the U.S.’ role in the 1973 coup in Chile or undermining the Obama administration’s claims on chemical weapons attacks in Syria, Hersh has courted controversy and attracted flak throughout his career. Yet his fearlessness has won him respect the world over. As journalist Glenn Greenwald stated,
Seymour Hersh is beyond any reasonable dispute one of the two or three most accomplished, important and courageous journalists of his generation. Very few journalists on the planet—and virtually none who still work inside the nation’s largest media corporations—can even get close to him when it comes to having broken more major, history-changing stories.
It is for this reason that Hersh’s reporting is so important—and why corporate media’s steadfast refusal to cover it is so noteworthy. If Hersh is correct, the United States and Norway essentially attacked their supposed NATO allies, something that could have gigantic geopolitical implications. Article 5 of NATO’s treaty states that if a NATO member is attacked, then all other NATO members must defend said country. Several NATO members, including the United Kingdom and France, possess nuclear weapons.
Of course, NATO will not declare war on the United States, precisely because it is, since its very inception, an unequal alliance. As Lord Ismay, the organization’s first secretary general, explained, “NATO’s role is to keep the Russians out, the Germans down and the Americans in”. In other words, it is a U.S.-dominated confederation meant to stifle the pan-European project that sought to reorient the continent away from serving the U.S. and towards becoming an independent regional bloc.
While the culprit of the attacks still remains in doubt, many of the consequences are not.
Germans—like much of Europe—have had to endure freezing winters amid enormous fuel price spikes. The dearth of energy has helped spark double-digit inflation in Germany that has eroded the savings of tens of millions of people. Energy costs are causing vast numbers of businesses to permanently close and presents a crisis of competitiveness for European industry, which is struggling to compete with American and Asian manufacturers enjoying cheap fuel.
Moreover, huge numbers of European businesses are closing or reducing their domestic workforce in favor of moving production to the U.S., where, alongside cheaper energy costs, the Biden administration is offering them financial incentives to do so. The European Union has accused Washington of breaching World Trade Organization rules.
Thus, it could be said that the invasion of Ukraine has marked a turning point in geopolitical history, whereby the United States is not only carrying out a proxy war against Russia, but engaged in an economic war against the entirety of Europe. If Hersh’s Nord Stream story is true, it could send a shockwave throughout Europe and should cause long held beliefs about the nature of Europe’s relationship with the United States to be challenged. Therefore, given the massive negative consequences of all this for Washington, perhaps it is no surprise that the revelation will not be televised.
-Alan MacLeod is a MintPress Staff Writer as well as an academic and writer for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. His book, Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting was published in April.